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May 22, 2012, Tuesday

Take it with a grain of salt

Nobody can argue that Facebook has not changed lives around the world. It serves as a tool to connect people. Do you ever wonder if the time will come when social media such as Facebook can ever replace good old face-to-face conversations?

Having just returned from a month back home in the States, I met with many friends I had not seen for two or three decades but in the past year or so have been able to reconnect with through Facebook. It’s been great to get back in touch. Facebook definitely has met that need to stay in touch. It is wonderful how families and friends can connect so easily through the Internet when living far distances apart.

Most humans crave connection, and are curious about how life is elsewhere. It is no doubt that online social networking is helping meet this universal human need. Urban life, in particular, does not always provide that human connection people crave. The Internet appears to offer safe ways to form new interactions with others, although you should remember not to always believe what someone writes to you. When you eventually meet face to face, the person you thought you knew through your Facebook interaction may turn out not to be quite so.

A few Today’s Zaman expat readers have written to me about some bad experiences they had. It can work both ways! A Turk wrote to me and shared how he had been in contact with somebody in Europe and expressed a desire to meet them. He sent money for an air ticket to their bank account, and the person received the money, then never wrote back. There are dangers and scams to watch out for online. Even face-to-face interactions with a stranger require discernment, as what a person tells you may not be true. Just take it with a grain of salt! The advantage of this form of interaction is that you can sometimes tell by their body language and facial expressions whether or not the other person is being truthful. With email, you cannot do this.

You’ve heard the English saying, “take it with a grain of salt” or take it with a pinch of salt”: When used in reference to the context above it means to accept it but maintain a degree of skepticism.

In USA Today (April 30, 2012) I came across some research on different types of conversation. Ed Keller and Brad Fay have conducted some research for the past six years on conversations of the American public, as well as in the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, Russia and South Korea. Keller and Fay’s research has covered more than 2 million conversations ranging from face-to-face to over the phone and online. Here are some of their findings:

Seventy-five percent of conversations in the US (even more in other countries) still happen face to face; less than 10 percent take place through the Internet. Keller and Fay report that social media has caused a reduction in email “conversation.” Face-to-face conversations tend to be more positive and more likely to be perceived as credible.

I found the next point that Keller and Fay report very revealing:

Content of conversations varies depending on form. What people tend to talk about online differs dramatically from offline. They say the former tends to be driven by what is perceived as “cool,” while the latter tends to be about sharing, as they put it, “real-life experiences.”

We’d all agree that social media has changed how the majority of people interact. It is a great way to have a chuckle together or drop a quick line of personal news. As for changing the world in the sense of social change and cultural behavior, this can only truly happen in real face-to-face contact.

I have to admit that maybe I am quite traditional in some ways. I still prefer that cup of coffee around the kitchen table or in the living room chatting face to face. Sadly, that may not always be possible, so then I settle for the next best thing.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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